Handling Q&A Sessions

Leadership always comes with a microphone. Whether casting vision, explaining strategy, or motivating your team, you’ll find yourself speaking before a group.

And if you speak before groups, you’ll likely also find yourself fielding questions either informally or in an official question and answer session.

Here are some tips for managing a Q&A session successfully.


Don’t fear silence.

Sometimes when the floor is first opened for questions the room becomes awkwardly silent.  It takes people some time to form their questions in their mind before standing up or taking a mic to ask them.

It may take others – introverts perhaps – additional time to get up the courage to ask their question publicly. Remain clam and welcoming – smiling at the group a bit during the silence.

You can solicit comments as well as questions, and then respond to the comments offered.

If a while passes at the start with no questions asked, I will essentially ask myself a question and then answer it.  I’ll say something like, “A question I frequently get asked on this subject is _____ and I always tell them ….” This serves to break the ice.  Alternatively, you can pre-arrange for someone present to ask a specific question at the start of the Q&A session to get the ball rolling.

After a flurry of questions, the room may fall silent again. If time allows, don’t automatically close out the session at this point. Tell the group you have time to take a couple more questions or respond to a couple more thoughts. Introverts can take a while to formulate and voice their thoughts, but they often have insightful ones. So get comfortable handling a little silence while a group is looking at you.

Repeat the question before answering.

This is especially key when the size of the audience or the room itself is large.  Repeating the question ensures that everyone hears and knows the context for the answer you are giving.

It also provides a chance to ensure that you did in fact understand the question being asked, before launching into a lengthy potentially off-topic response. Look at the questioner as you repeat the question.

Plus, it gives your mind a moment to begin formulating the answer you want to give. But never fear taking a quiet moment to collect your thoughts before answering a question if you need to.

Answer to the entire group.

Don’t focus solely on the person who asked the question with your answer. Direct your answer to the entire group, spreading out your eye contact and projecting your voice across the crowd just as you would while giving a presentation.

This keeps the whole audience engaged. Plus, it is likely that someone else in the room was wondering the same thing as the person who asked the question.

When you are done answering a question, you can bring your gaze back to rest on the person who asked the question, perhaps with a nod of your head or a “Thanks for asking that.”

Don’t pretend to know it all.

If you are asked a question you do not know the answer to, simply state that rather than feigning your way through an answer. Most audiences can detect “BS.” And someone in the audience may know the correct answer.

I like to praise the questioner in these cases. For example: “That is such a good question. I can’t say that I know the answer to it. I would need to do some more thinking/research before I could fully answer that one. It’s a great question though, and one I will look into.”  This helps the asker feel some satisfaction despite not receiving an answer to their question.

Research shows that the Q&A session following a speech can have as much or more impact on the audience’s impressions of you and your message as your speech itself. So train yourself to relax and allow time for questions to arise, repeat the question before answering, and deliver honest answers the same way you would your speech -engaging the entire audience.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Rachel is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Call at The Forté Institute at 910-452-5152.